Scrap the runoff

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: December 6 2013 | 12:01 am - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 12:30 am in

By The Gazette Editorial Board

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Linn County Auditor Joel Miller, who oversees elections, says Cedar Rapids should consider scrapping its post-general election runoff for unresolved City Council races in favor of an October primary.

Exhibit A: a turnout plunge.

Just more than 22 percent of Cedar Rapids voters turned out for the November general election but failed to boost any of seven at-large candidates past the 25-percent threshold to win a seat outright.

So the at-large race was tossed into a four-way runoff Tuesday. The turnout for this post-Thanksgiving add-on election was just 8.7 percent. And that drop is consistent with past runoff votes.

If one of the objectives of building an election process is to encourage robust participation by residents, and we think it should be a top goal, then itís clear that this structure isnít working. As disappointing as general election turnout is, runoff turnout is abysmal. The election of two council members to represent the entire city became a forgotten afterthought.

We think the general election should be the final word. And we believe that there would be more voter interest in a process that leads to that end. So any electoral winnowing process designed to cut a large field of candidates down to size should be conducted before the November election. An October primary would do that.

Itís a change city leaders should consider, although switching from runoffs to primaries would take a change in the cityís home rule charter. The charter can be amended by the council, although any amendment also could be subject to a public vote, if residents petition for it.

We also think thereís merit in another idea, instant runoff voting. Voters would rank their ballot choices, and if candidates failed to clear a victory threshold with first-choice votes, second-choice preferences would come into play, and so on. It would take legislative action to allow instant runoff voting.

In the meantime, we think a primary followed by a general election makes sense.

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